Grief Brain: It’s a Real Thing!

I’m looking right at her.

I know her.  In fact, I’ve known her for years.  But please don’t ask me her name.

I have no idea.

It happens to all of us-meet someone in the store or at the Post Office and you just know you know them, but cannot-for the life of you-remember a name.

file-cabinet

Chatting on, you search mental files desperately trying to make a connection you can hold onto.  Five minutes after she walks away it pops up-oh, yes!  That’s so-and-so from such-and-such.

Imagine if instead of searching mental files without success you can’t even find the file cabinet and start to wonder if one ever existed.

That’s what “grief brain” does to you.

Here are a few more examples of things that actually happened:  

  • Someone would say something to me and I hear them as if it’s another language-I have absolutely NO IDEA what they just said.
  • I had to write a list each morning of the most basic things to do (like eat) so that I didn’t forget to do them. I had to tape the list to the kitchen cabinet because otherwise I lost it.
  • I could no longer walk away from the stove when it’s turned on-I burned more than one pot of peas.
  • There are times I couldn’t remember my phone number or street address when asked.
  • I answered the phone, heard a familiar voice only to be confused about exactly who was on the other end of the line.
  • I became momentarily “lost” on familiar streets or in familiar stores.
  • Sometimes I literally couldn’t remember what day it was.
  • I forgot appointments, meetings and what time church starts on Wednesday night.

confused-huffpo

I began to wonder if I was losing my mind.  

And, in a way, I was.  

At least the mind I had BEFORE my son was killed.

The initial shock was only a beginning.  Ongoing stress and related hormones as well as increased blood pressure, poor sleep, anxiety, profound sadness and being forced to acknowledge my own lack of control bombarded my mind for months.  Pathways I’d relied on for most of my life were changed or destroyed.

If you think of the brain as an interconnected web of associations, functions and activity, it’s easy to see that rerouting or destroying some of the connections makes it harder to access information and do tasks.

neurons

“[W]hen brain imaging studies are done on people who are grieving, increased activity is seen along a broad network of neurons. These link areas associated not only with mood but also with memory, perception, conceptualization, and even the regulation of the heart, the digestive system, and other organs.”  Prevention Magazine

It’s no wonder that I found it difficult to think and do the most routine tasks after child loss!  

My mind was fundamentally altered.

It’s not as bad now as it was in the beginning.

But I still struggle to remember things that used to come easily.  I still hear words that I don’t always understand.  I depend much more on paper and pencil to keep track of important dates, appointments and phone numbers than I used to.  And I never walk away from the stove.

If I make a lunch date with a friend, I ask that she message me the day before to remind me.  If I don’t comprehend what someone is saying, I request that they repeat it.  I keep a paper copy of important information in my purse and an electronic copy on my phone.

It’s frustrating sometimes, but it is not a moral failure that my brain isn’t as sharp as it once was.

What was embarrassing at first is now something I openly acknowledge. 

I ask for help and I don’t apologize.

It’s really OK.

grief-brain-quote-from-cf

Featured image via: bedraggled & kicking

Author: Melanie

I am a shepherd, wife and mother of four amazing children, three that walk the earth with me and one who lives with Jesus. This is a record of my grief journey and a look into the life I didn't choose. If you are interested in joining a community of bereaved parents leaning on the promises of God in Christ, please like the public Facebook page, "Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child" and join the conversation.

51 thoughts on “Grief Brain: It’s a Real Thing!”

  1. Yes I forget everything. But the specific one that rather shocks me ; is that if someone tells me something sad… I immediately forget it. I can recall seeing their lips moving but I can’t “hear” the words in my memory. If I think and relive the conversation It may come to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Carolyn,
      It sounds like your brain is trying to protect your heart. It’s not uncommon. I am sorry that it causes you frustration or worry. If you are going somewhere you need to be able to remember the information-take a trusted friend or family member with you to be your “ears”. That’s what is suggested for cancer patients, for example. Praying you feel the Father’s loving arms around you. ❤

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  2. Before Kari died, I work d as an Occupational Therapist with children who had moderate to severe disabilities. We had children with very complex conditions attending. I returned to that job a couple of months after Kari left us, because my husband wasn’t working due to stress leave as a teacher and we needed some income.
    I struggled with the emotional intensity, but also just the brain power required in my job. When we got a new CEO who caused a lot of unrest and trauma to staff, I left along with most of my colleagues.
    I now work as a nanny and while the pay is a lot less, so is the stress and brain power required. I am so happy to have this job. In some ways I feel it is a gift from God as my Kari longed to have a baby, but died before she could. Now I have a pseudo grand daughter to love as if she was Kari’s (if that makes sense).
    I hope and pray that somehow Kari is having her longing for a baby met in Heaven. In Steven Curtis Chapman’s song he talks of many babies who never got the chance to live on earth being cared for in Heaven. maybe that’s what she’s doing while she waits for me…..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think one of the things we are all forced to do this side of child loss is reevaluate where we can put our limited resources of energy and emotion. Sounds like you made a wise choice. I am so very sorry for your pain and your loss. ❤

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  3. Grief brain is the pits and the exhaustion from just trying to exist. My 15 year old daughter got her wings courtesy of Epilepsy 17 June 2016, my Dads birthday. I am so tired but have to box on for my 3 surviving children and my heartbroken husband. I have to programme everything into my phone, coffee dates, grocery lists, kid playmates. My phone goes everywhere with me, a habit picked up from having to in case I had one of those calls from her school. I am so tired some days I think I don’t even have the energy to breathe.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Trina, I am so very sorry for your loss and your pain. Grief brain IS exhausting! It seems a cruel joke that on top of the work we have to do just to bear up under the grief we also have to work so very hard to do the necessary tasks of life. I completely identify with your statement that sometimes you don’t even think you have the energy to breathe.

      It does get better over time. And learning to use every available help makes a difference too. For me, I have to use a combination of my phone and paper reminders. I have a clothespin clipped to the curtains by my front door where I place any “must take” papers with me so I can’t miss them.

      Praying that the Lord gives you the strength you need for each new day. May you feel Him pour mercy and grace into your broken heart. ❤ Melanie

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  4. Are you telling me I am NOT going insane? That the very things you speak of aren’t just ME? I could cry with relief as odd as that might sound.. I lost my dad on 3/9/14 after an 8 day battle with Cancer. Yes I said 8 days. My mother collapsed and almost died on day 4 of his hospital stay. To top it off, I had been unable to reach my son, and sent my husband home to check on him, and, as I was on the phone with the Funeral home making arrangements for my dad (my mom is hearing impaired) I get a phone call from my husband telling me to come home immediately. I kept asking him what was wrong, and finally he told me . My son was dead. On my back porch. I was horrified to tell my mom without some kind of medical staff present incase she collapsed again. SO I never bat an eye, and told my mom without tears or letting on, that something was up and I was headed home to check on my son, and that i would call her with an update. I drove the 45 mins to my house from hers begging God for it to be a mistake, telling myself I would fix it when i got there. I pull in my drive, to deputies, EMS workers, and crime scene tape. I got out and fought tooth and nail to get to my child, who i could see was covered and on my back porch. They would not let me. I begged pleaded to no avail. After a while I had to call my mom and my aunt answered the phone. I told her what was going on but NOT to tell my mom. I had gone to the local ER and explained the situation.They were so kind. They had 3 nurses and a Dr on stand by. My mom got there, they showed her back to the room, and I had to tell her my son was gone. My son died on 3/9/14 as well. After reading your words, I can see myself in them. Thank you for sharing this..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, my Peggy! How my heart hurts for you! I am so, so sorry for your pain and your loss. And I am horrified that you might have thought something was wrong with YOU as you experienced these common symptoms. No, you are not crazy. I pray you have found a supportive community of bereaved parents to help you in this journey. May the Lord give you strength for each day. ❤ Melanie

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Dear Peggy- ……I’m hugging you in prayers…. How atrociously painful life is. I am so sorry for your gouging, shocking, and heart-wrenching experiences…. Yhank you for sharing here. You don’t crawl alone. ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Peggy, I’m so sorry! Your son died on the exact same day as my daughter. She is forever 31 and left three children behind. It changed my life forever. May God bless you and your family!

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Oh my gosh Peggy, you poor, poor lady! Your poor hubby too. My heart just aches so badly for what your family has gone and is still going through. My sincerest condolences to you on the loss of your darling son and also of your dad. I do hope and pray that you have genuine support around you guys as time is going on. It’s not easy, but I pray you find your strength and hope in God each day xxxx

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It happened after my husband walked out after 30years of marriage. I had a horrible time coping with the the rejection and 2 very angry teenagers , 16 and 19 years of age.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have lived this life since 2005 when my son passed on. I thought I had lost my mind. I have learned many coping mechanisms to help remember things so I can function day to day. I’m definately not the person I was before death and I accept the fact I never will be. I need to share your post in hopes my friends and family read this and can understand what I have not been able to explain since my sons death.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope they are able to understand just a little bit better. This is our reality. We would change it if we could. But we can’t. Praying for you dear mama. ❤

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  7. Thank you for the info–spot on–lost my Daughter 8 years ago to a brain tumor–and my Husband just 12 weeks ago (suddenly). Thankful to God that they are enjoying Heaven together–and for having had the blessings of our relationships—–yet-struggling to breathe lately, and the heart pain can be overwhelming at times. My Hubby was proud to be a friend of Bill W. for more than 20 years–and one of their mantras was “one day at a time”–I think I need mine to be “one moment at a time” for now, but the same principle applies. So very exhausted! But I will praise You God for all the many blessings You give and continue to give–esp. Jesus–looking forward to the Heavenly reunion!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Donna, I am so very sorry for your loss and your pain. I am thankful you are relying on Jesus to make it through this Valley. I pray that you feel the Father’s arms around you and that He strengthens you each day. I can’t wait until every sad thing comes untrue and every tear is wiped away!!

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    2. Hi, Donna.

      First, let me extend my condolences to you. I can honestly relate to how you feel. I too lost a daughter to a brain tumor (Teratocarcinoma). She passed two days after her second birthday. This April she would have been 25 yeas old and will have been gone for 23 years (which was the age I was when she passed). She was our only child at the time. Two years ago her father, my ex-husband passed from a rare sinus cancer (he didn’t drink, smoke, nor do drugs). Although we were divorced, we had reconciled (before his illness) and planned on remarrying, but he passed before we could. Our younger two daughters were 17 years and seven years when their dad passed. As hard as his death was for me (I had been his sole caregiver for the final year of his life), I knew I had to keep myself together for their sake. I managed to do it but it I have to give God all the glory because I believe He is what helped me get through my grief. Losing my daughter (and I’ve lost a lot of loved ones since then, including my mom, and my dad’s parents – who I was very close to and who mainly raised me) was the toughest death I have ever faced. That’s not to say that others who have passed on since her have not hurt me, but none have touched upon what losing her has been. People ask me how I have managed to go through life after losing a child. I point out that others have lost multiple children or have lost children to unnecessary tragedies. I lost my child to an illness that we tried to fight but could not win. I got to be with my child during that time, care for her, nurse her, and hold her hand as she peacefully passed at home. These may not seem like blessings to some being she did pass, but to me, I feel they are. And how do I make it after I have lost a child? Day by day and by the grace of God. May God bless you and your family. I will keep you in my prayers that you find comfort during this time.

      Linda

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Linda, like you I was like a zombie, walking around numb after loosing my son to suicide. I had to be there for my other children so I didn’t really get to grieve. But when I was alone, I was reckless, like driving too fast or just not caring about myself. I must have lost 10 lbs. between the time he passed & the time he was buried. Losing a child is not supposed to happen. Losing two is even crazier. I also lost a full term baby by being still born. No wonder my mind has been whacky since. Then to top it all off I had lost both my parents at 12. No breaks for me. But I don’t dwell on it. I going on living for today.

        Stella

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Linda,
        My first-born daughter died 23 years ago as well… at 7 1/2. It’s refreshing to read your words…. as it all happened a long time ago but also seems like yesterday. We were in and out of the hospital (She had AML) for years ( first symptoms appeared at 1 1/2 IT was so hard some times!!!! But your words resonate in me. I got to be there with her. She had wonderful care.
        We had people praying, loving us.
        There were many blessings …

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I really liked your post. I am a person well acquainted with grief. I lost my mother when I was only sixteen and though I had a scholarship, my brain was too scrambled to use. I tried attending junior college but one day I just quit. I didn’t withdraw, told no one. Just stopped going. I could not think. Since that loss MANY years ago, I lost my dad, I miscarried, my sister was killed as a domestic violence victim, and in the past five years I lost two of my brothers. But our most recent loss is one of the hardest. In March last year we buried our 14 month old grandchild. Olivia Jane. My heart is still broken because not only am I grieving, but I see the pain that my son and his beautiful wife have. And I grieve with my grandchildren who loved Livie. Coming up to the anniversary date and dreading it. For this time last year she got sick and even though she had Trisomy 18, she was defying everything so we hoped she would continue to do so. I minister to those who have lost loved ones through my poetry. When I hurt, the words come. I appreciate what you are doing with your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so very sorry for your pain and your loss! Of course you couldn’t think after losing your mother! And I know your pain is multiplied with your grandchild. I pray that you feel the Father’s loving arms around you in your grief. Thank you for sharing part of your story.

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  9. My son’s heavenly birthday is coming in May, it will be 6yrs. I have come to the conclusion that life doesn’t get better, it just gets different…a new normal. The people closest to me have gotten used to my brain fog, my daughters ask me to repeat things in hopes that I don’t forget them…I still forget. I still have to pull off the road to cry, or sit in the truck when I get somewhere to cry. Grief just comes in waves when it’s unexpected…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so very sorry for your loss and your pain Bessie. I think we get stronger and better able to carry this burden but don’t get “better” in the sense that we forget or heal beyond feeling the pain and sorrow. My family has also become accustomed to my brain fog. They are gracious and help me when I forget. Praying that you feel the Father’s loving arms around you ❤

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  10. I still have trouble reading. I can focus since his death. He died 2 and half years ago and I have yet to read a book or if I try the comprehension is just not there. It’s like my sense of focus is distorted . A widow I know once said she felt lost and un grounded . That is my exact thought. Totally ungrounded with no sense of direction. I agree so much with this article! CL I kept trying to learn new things and challenge my mind just so I know I’m not completely lost. Grief suxs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so very sorry for your pain and loss, Celeste. Grief does stink! I wish no one had to bear this burden. I was an avid reader before my son ran ahead to heaven-I might have 3 or 4 books going at once and complete 4-5 books a week. But now I also struggle to remain focused and find I can only read maybe a few pages or chapter at a time. And I often have to reread pages to understand them. Praying you feel God’s comfort in your grief.

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      1. I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one who has trouble reading. I have always read anything and everything. Since my son died in April I can’t focus on anything more than a short magazine article.
        My memory is do bad that I couldn’t remember my address and I was in my house. I googled myself to find out what my address was. Glad to know I’m not insane.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. After my husband died unexpectedly 2 1/2 years ago I couldn’t remember what I was doing…Who I had called or if I had called them. I carried around a notebook and called it “my brains”. I gave my daughter-in-law permission to be in charge of “my brains”. I remember being in a fog those days after his “going before me” (I like that phrase). I still have days where I KNOW I should be doing something but can’t remember what it was. I will go to my room for a while and back into the kitchen and see where I had left the milk or eggs out on the counter. Grief brain does not go away very guickly…Or at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are absolutely right, Denise. I’m sorry for your loss and your pain. I had a notebook I called, “Mom’s Brain” a few years before Dom ran ahead to heaven. I was in the process of being diagnosed with RA and had brain fog-not as bad as after loss-but it was very discouraging. My kids helped me keep up with it too. Obviously, when Dom died, I had some experience in this area so I went straight to the techniques that had helped before. But this is much more profound than what I’ve experienced with RA and there’s no medicine for it. Nearly 3 years for me and yesterday, after I posted this I had a doozy of a day-couldn’t remember a thing! Praying for you dear one.

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  12. Do you think this can happen with losing someone that is not a child? I know there is no pain like losing a child, but I still grieve for losing my grandmother. I lost her almost 5 months ago. It is getting better and I feel like I should be better by now but I am experience what you just described.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, ABSOLUTELY! I write from the perspective of child loss because that is my experience. But, yes! This can happen with any loss. It’s most profound when losing a loved one-and the closer the relationship the more impactful-but it can also happen as a result of other great grief caused by life circumstances. I am so sorry for your loss. Please be gentle on yourself. There are probably several posts that might be helpful for you if you check them out. Praying that the Lord gives you strength and comforts your heart.

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  13. My son died April 18, 2016 and my memory is so bad that I couldn’t remember my address and I was home! Finally, I used Google maps to find my address. It didn’t occur to me to look on mail, driver’s license, or even the mailbox. These are frightening episodes for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, very scary! I am so sorry. That’s a perfect example of what I am talking about-pre-grief you would have made all those connections (not to mention forgetting your address in the first place!) Sometimes I feel like daily life is the same as me trying to understand advanced physics. I just don’t have the framework I once had. I am so very sorry for your pain and your loss. May the Lord comfort you and overwhelm your heart with His love, grace and mercy.

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  14. Thank you for this post, Melanie. Very true for me. The year anniversary of my son’s death recently passed, and I feel muddled most of the time. I took a leave from my work as a teacher, and I find the fog is often thicker. I had blamed it on lack of sleep, which ties into my continued grief. Sharing this with others will help them show me and my family continued grace.
    💛💙Jeni Engler

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, goodness! All the hard things of grief become harder near those remembrance days. I had someone request I teach a speech class a bit over a year after Dom ran ahead to heaven. I had taught this class LOTS of times but found myself dumbfounded repeatedly while standing in front of the students. I had to double and triple check every single thing I needed to take or prepare for class. In a semester I barely learned the kids’ names even though it was a small class. Kudos to you for teaching still! I pray that sharing the post DOES help others understand. We certainly can’t help it. May the Lord give you exactly what you need for each day and may He overwhelm your heart with His love, grace and mercy.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I know what you mean. My kids complained and I started to fear that I was going to get diagnosed with a brain tumour. My memory was so bad that I had zero recall that my daughter had told me she had been accepted into University. ZERO! No matter how much I tried I could not remember anything to do with that conversation and I felt like the worst mother in the world.

    I do feel like I’m getting a bit better now, but in part that may be because I’m not at work so I don’t have a lot to remember. Someday I will explain to my kids who are quite frustrated with me …. if I remember. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know-people who haven’t walked this path couldn’t imagine forgetting something like that. But we do. I’m glad you feel like it’s getting better. It is for me as well. Plus I’ve learned a few tips and tricks (as one of my daugher’s professors used to say) to help. 🙂 I love your sense of humor. Laughter truly is the best medicine.

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  16. The words describe what happened to my brain perfectly! After I returned to work people would ask me questions and I used to tell them, I don’t know. Not today…Maybe tomorrow. I say now that I used to be a smart person but sure am different now. It’s been over 10+yrs. This is who I am now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have no idea how you do it at all. I don’t work outside my home. The farm chores are rote and not particularly challenging and the animals don’t care what I know as long as they are fed. You are brave. I pray you continue to be strengthened for each new day to carry this load of sorrow and missing.

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